Rochdale opened the 2013/14 season in style as they recorded a deserved 3-0 victory over Hartlepool United at Spotland on Saturday.
Scott Hogan, George Donnelly and Ian Henderson netted the goals in what was a comfortable win for the home side.
Manager Keith Hill named five debutants in his starting line-up, with Ashley Eastham, Olly Lancashire, Peter Vincenti, Scott Hogan and Matty Lund named amongst the eleven.
It was an attacking 4-4-2 formation and the players looked sharp and lively from the out-set as they made use of the pristine pitch to deliver a fast, free flowing style of football.
It was an entertaining display in front of a crowd of 3,177, as supporters turned out in numbers to back Dale in the first match of the new season.
It was end to end football during the opening period at Spotland, but it was Rochdale who took the lead on 14 minutes as Scott Hogan opened his Football League account.
Hogan had already forced Pools ‘keeper Scott Flinders into a reaction save after five minutes in what was a positive start from Rochdale, before his counterpart Josh Lillis, pulled off an important stop to deny Jonathan Franks three minutes later.
Jack Compton had set off up the left hand flank and sent the ball, which was missed by everyone, across the face of goal. It fell kindly for the unmarked Franks, who drilled the ball towards the near post, but Lillis was on hand to send it round the upright.
Four minutes later, Hartlepool should have opened the scoring through Anthony Sweeney, however his header went narrowly wide of the target.
But it was Rochdale who found the breakthrough on 14 minutes. Hogan picked the ball up 25-yards out with his back to goal, and turned, taking it past the Pools defender, before calmly smashing it past Flinders.
GOAL: ROCHDALE 1-0 HARTLEPOLL UNITED
After the goal it was the visitors who went on to take charge for a short spell during a sustained period of pressure, but the Dale defence stood strong to deny Hartlepool clear cut opportunities in front of goal. While the Rochdale back four were kept busy, the Pools had just one notable chance during that ten minute spell – a Bradley Walker shot from distance on 21 minutes which was saved by Lillis.
Dale finished the half on the front foot and had opportunities to double their lead.
On the half hour mark, Michael Rose came within inches of doubling Dale’s lead as his free-kick from 20-yards rattled the stanchion at the back of the net, while just four minutes later, Ian Henderson was kept out.
Joe Rafferty had done superbly to win the ball in mid-field and took to the by-line before delivering it across the face of goal. It was missed by all, but picked up by Henderson on the far side, whose final effort was blocked.
A minute later Henderson lofted a free-kick into the box, but the on-running Vincenti could only toe poke an effort from close range over the bar.
HT: ROCHDALE 1-0 HARTLEPOOL UNITED
There were no substitutions for Dale at the interval as Manager Keith Hill stayed as was for the start of the second half.
Despite an early scare just two minutes after the re-start, a composed Rochdale put the game to bed before the hour mark as Dale ramped up their play in an impressive second half display.
On 47 minutes, Hartlepool should have done better after Compton delivered a menacing ball across the face of goal. But despite the unmarked Sweeney and Andy Monkhouse throwing themselves at the ball inside the six yard box, they failed to get it a touch on it and it went past the post.
With the early scare weathered, it was Rochdale who went on to dominate and produced a confident display to secure a deserved three points.
Just a minute after the Pools’ opportunity, Ashley Eastham had an effort on goal up the other end. Henderson sent a free-kick into the box, and it was the Dale defender who got on the end of it, sending an effort into the hands of Flinders.
And two minutes later, Dale netted their second of the afternoon – the goal coming from the spot. The visitors’ Christian Burgess clattered in on Lund inside the area and the referee showed no hesitation as he awarded the penalty. Up stepped Donnelly to take the resulting kick from 12 yards and he made no mistake as he slammed it past Flinders and into the back of the net.
GOAL: ROCHDALE 2-0 HARTLEPOOL (50 mins)
The game remained all Dale and on 55 minutes Henderson caused problems for the Hartlepool defence as he twisted and turned his way towards goal before sending a shot over the bar.
A minute later and Donnelly came within inches of bagging another. He collected the ball just inside his own half and set off at speed down the right hand flank, with just one Pools defender in toe. The Hartlepool man made it difficult for the No 9 as he stayed close, but Donnelly dug deep and drilled a great effort narrowly past the post.
And on 57 minutes, Dale netted a deserved third, this time through Henderson. He was picked out by Hogan with a sublime through ball, and after going through one on one with Flinders, he slotted it past the ‘keeper in a cool fashion.
GOAL: ROCHDALE 3-0 HARTLEPOOL
Despite being three goals down, the Pools heads didn’t drop, however they were limited in what they could do as every time they attempted to surge forward, they hit a brick wall as Dale worked as unit to keep them out.
With the visitors finding no way through, it was Dale who were very much on top, and they looked in confident mood as they ripped the Pools apart with their quick and entertaining passing game.
Matty Done was introduced onto the field of play on 76 minutes in place of Henderson and the fresh legs saw Dale up another gear as they asked most the questions.
On 83 minutes, Done sent a cross into the area which was almost turned into the net by Hartlepool’s Burgess. A minute later and Donnelly came within inches of doubling his tally, but despite Flinders being rooted to the spot, his effort curled just past the post.
Three minutes later, and in what was a rare opportunity in front of goal for the visitors, substitute James Poole could only send a free header over six yards. He buried his head in his hands, summing up his side’s afternoon.
In the final moments of the match, Lund twice came close. He first of all sent an effort from 25-yards just inches past the upright, before curling a free-kick over the cross bar.
Hartlepool had the last say of the match as Compton headed over the bar from close range.
It finished Rochdale 3, Hartlepool 0.